Powerful thunderstorms, heavy winds leave at least 8 dead in France, Italy

Violent thunderstorms and hurricane-force winds left at least eight people dead in France and Italy on Thursday, uprooting trees in Tuscany and on the French island of Corsica, and ripping away shards of brick from the bell tower of St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice. Over 100 boats in the Mediterranean Sea called for emergency help, authorities said.

The storm produced gusts of more than 220 km/h in some areas, according to the national weather agency Meteo France. About 45,000 households were without power on Corsica, where dozens of people were injured and 12 were hospitalized, one in critical condition, authorities there said.

The Italian regions of Tuscany and Veneto both declared a state of emergency, as the violent storms in the north contrasted with scorching temperatures that were up to 43 C in southern Italy.

Storms have slammed Western European countries in recent days after a summer of extreme weather, while neighbouring countries in Central and Eastern Europe are still suffering exceptional heat waves and drought.

2 dead in separate incidents in Italy

Two people were killed Thursday in separate incidents in Tuscany,  one near the city of Lucca and another near Carrara, when trees were ripped up by storms. Dozens were reported injured, including four people hurt by falling trees at a campground near Carrara.

In Venice, high winds detached pieces of brick from the bell tower of St. Mark’s Basilica, which stands in front of the famed cathedral. Tourists were evacuated from the structure, which was cordoned off. The storm upended chairs and tables in St. Mark’s Square and elsewhere, and swept away beach chairs on the nearby Lido.

The winds rose suddenly yet were calm within about five minutes, Carlo Alberto Tesserin, the caretaker of the basilica and bell tower, told The Associated Press.

“These were not usual winds for us,” Tesserin said.

High winds halt trains

In northern Italy, an overnight storm forced a train line southeast of Genoa to shut down after high winds carried beach structures onto the tracks, damaging the electrical circuitry.

The storm struck during Italy’s busiest beach vacation week. The mayor of Sestri Levante, Valentina Ghio, appealed to visitors to stay away from beaches until the severe weather had passed.

Walnut-sized hail pummeled Italy’s Liguria region with enough force to break the windows of homes and damage orchards and gardens.

Northern Italy has suffered its worst drought in decades this year, but the heavy rains in recent days have brought scattered hailstorms, whirlwinds and flooding that have damaged or destroyed entire crops of fruits and vegetables, along with vineyards and olive orchards, according to the Italian agricultural lobby Coldiretti.

Storm damage in Corsica and Paris

In Corsica, a 13-year-old girl died after a tree fell in a campsite in the coastal town of Sagone. A 72-year-old woman was killed when the roof of a beach restaurant fell on her vehicle in Coggia, and a 46-year-old man died at a campsite in Calvi.

Bystanders look on at boats thrown onto the beach of Sagone in Coggia after strong winds struck the French Mediterranean island of Corsica on Thursday. (Pascal Pochard-Casabianca/AFP/Getty Images)

Rescue crews found the bodies of a 62-year-old fisherman and an unidentified kayaker off Corsica’s coasts, according to the French maritime authority for the Mediterranean. It said both died as a result of the sudden storm and that more than 100 grounded, wrecked or stranded ships in the area have called for emergency help.

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin traveled to the island Thursday to inspect the damage.

WATCH | Flooded metro stations in Paris: 

Violent storm floods streets of Paris

A storm finally broke the heat wave in Paris, France, on Tuesday, but the rainfall was so severe that it flooded streets and flowed down into the city’s metro stations.

Thunderstorms on Wednesday flooded Paris subway stations and the Old Port of Marseille, and winds over 100 km/h were recorded at the top of the Eiffel Tower during a flash flood on Tuesday.

The fierce rains come amid a summer of of drought, heat waves and forest fires across Europe that scientists link to human-caused climate change.

A need for rain in Hungary

Yet to the east, on Hungary’s Southern Great Plain, shepherd Sandor Kalman can only dream of rainfall. He grazes sheep on lands desiccated by intense heat and low rainfall.

As he walks on his pastures, what grass there still is crunches beneath his boots.

An image taken near Vamosszabadi, Hungary, on Wednesday, shows a portion of a ship that sank during the Second World War — and is now being revealed by the unusually low water level of the Danube River. (Csaba Krizsan/MTI/The Associated Press)

“In this heat wave, this clay soil actually burns the sheep’s feet, it’s so hot,” he said, adding that his herding dogs also find it difficult to walk on the parched earth. “I’m 57 years old, but I’ve never seen a drought this big.”

Hungarian meteorological data this year shows the most severe lack of rainfall since 1901.

Water levels on the Danube River, one of Europe’s largest waterways, have dropped 1.5 metres in three weeks near Budapest, leading the regional water company to warn that the supply of drinking water could be threatened.

“The future is hard to predict, but forecasts and climate models suggest that further severe droughts are likely,” said Klara Kerpely of environmental group WWF Hungary, warning that officials will need to prepare for more frequent extreme weather and rework Hungary’s water retention system.

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